What does infertility feel like?
For some reason, I’ve had MANY conversations this week with people from my inner circle about what it feels like from my perspective of going through my infertility. Don’t get me wrong, my friends have been my ROCK over all of these years of my fertility struggles. But we realised this week that they never actually knew the extent of all of the feelings, grief and (dare I say) trauma that I went through.
This inspired me to write a blog post on it so that:
- If you’re going through your fertility struggles right now, you know that you aren’t alone; and
- If you have a loved one struggling with their fertility, you can get a glimpse into what they’re going through
The Early Months
When J & I started trying, it was very easy breezy. We’d try during our fertility window (aka ovulation) and then I’d wait for my period to not show up.
During that week or so leading up to my next period, I’d let my brain float into the future and imagine what it’d be like to be pregnant, to have a baby, to have kids, etc. and I’d be happy and excited.
I’d be disappointed when my period would arrive but I’d just look towards the next month as another chance to try.
It was a MUCH simpler time!
The Later Months/Years
As the months dragged onwards and we never got a single positive pregnancy test, I started dreading the time before my next period. I’d hold onto every minuscule early pregnancy symptom that I might be experiencing grasping at the hope that MAYBE this time, I was pregnant!
As a complete aside, WHO THE HELL decided that all of the symptoms of your period arriving should be essentially the same as early pregnancy symptoms!?! Whoever it was, they should be repeatedly punched in the face. Who’s with me on this one??
These months/years were filled with A LOT of hopes and dreams of our future pregnancy and family. It brought with it a lot of excitement every time I’d think: this was it!
Sometimes I’d even let myself look at baby things at the store.
Even rarer, sometimes I’d look at other people’s babies and imagine what it’d be like to be them.
However, these months/years were often filled with A LOT of lows.
Every month that I would do multiple home pregnancy tests the moment my period was “late” (even if it was just by 1-2 days). And when it was negative, my hopes would be dashed, and my excitement and anticipation of a positive would evaporate into the thin air.
Every month that my period would arrive, I’d be sad and disappointed that this wasn’t the month afterall. As time went on, I’d become more and more disappointed, devastated and crushed every time my period would arrive.
I eventually started cursing my body for not doing THE THING that I wanted it to do. I’d then ask: why me?!? WHY couldn’t it just work? WHY was it so easy for everyone else around me to get pregnant?
I also started wondering if this was payback for not really wanting kids when I was younger. I was just never THAT person who melted over other people’s babies. I was 100% puppy crazy and would swoon over any puppy that came down the street. But babies? Not so much. So maybe this was why it was happening.
The Super Lows
Every time a family member or friend would ask: so when are you & J going to start your family? It was like a knife to my heart. I’d have to remind myself to breathe. I’d feel the heat rushing up my neck and my ears, and then I’d feel the heat behind my eyes and I’d have to WILL the tears away. I’d have to muster up an answer that was lighthearted and didn’t go into the details of how much it in fact hurt my heart. And then I’d have to pick up the pieces of my broken heart when I walked away.
Every time I saw a pregnancy announcement, it was another knife into my heart. I would be incredibly happy for my family/friend BUT there was a big part of me that was super jealous of them. And then there was a another big part of me that felt incredibly guilty for this jealousy, and I’d be angry at myself for being jealous of someone that I loved becoming a parent. It was a vicious cycle.
Every time I was invited to a baby shower, I’d have to figure out how to decline without a “proper excuse”. I’d feel guilty for not wanting to go. I’d feel pressure to go and celebrate my friend. But then my heart would hurt the whole time I was at a baby shower bc I saw all of the “what ifs” and “could have beens”.
I can’t even count the number of times I’ve cried over my entire fertility journey. I’ve cried in the bathroom. I’ve sobbed myself to sleep. I’ve cried in the bathroom at work. I’ve cried in the bathroom at a baby shower. I’ve cried in my car. You name it, I’ve cried there! And if you know me personally, you’d know that I am NOT a cryer — at all.
It’s incredibly unfair. It’s heart-wrenching. It guts you.
It’s a massive sucker punch to your back while you’re already in the process of falling.
It SUCKS so very much.
The Fertility Clinic
If you’ve never been to a fertility clinic appointment before, it’s definitely a bit of a TRIP.
The Lead Up
First of all, you need a referral to a clinic only after you’ve been trying and unsuccessful for 6 or 12 months (depending on your age and other criteria). Once you get your referral, it takes an additional few months before you ever see your fertility doctor.
At your first appointment, you talk about all of the details of your fertility journey and are sent off to do a whole bunch of testing.
From J’s side of things, his testing consisted of one blood test and a semen sample. He was incredibly annoyed at the procedures for the semen sample and I wanted to kill him.
Even worse, he gloated when he was told that his sperm were “Grade A” and he would giddily tell anyone and everyone who asked about our fertility process. I know he didn’t intend to hurt me, but he twisted the knife in my heart every time he’d say that. Because then I felt like it was ALL MY FAULT. I was the only reason we couldn’t get pregnant. My stupid body was the reason.
From my side of things, I had tons of blood tests, gynecological examinations, internal ultrasounds (that are particularly uncomfortable for endo patients), procedures that included an ultrasound where they insert a catheter through my cervix (which is NOT happy when that happens!) to inject saline to make sure that my fallopian tubes were open.
Have you seen that funny meme of Oprah during that episode of her TV show where she gave away cars to everyone? “You get a car! And you get a car! and YOU get a car!!!”. The fertility meme is that same situation except the caption is: “You saw my vagina! And you saw my vagina! And YOU saw my vagina!!!”. The whole fertility process felt very degrading to me and I always felt exposed — both physically and emotionally.
And that’s just the lead up to any fertility procedure!
My crazy fertility story aside — you can read more about it HERE — once you opt for an IUI/IVF, there’s even more blood tests, gynecological exams, internal ultrasounds AND there’s the addition of medications that make you more “hormonal” than you’ve ever been before along with all of the physical symptoms that come along with it.
The Waiting Game
Then there’s the dreaded TWW (= two week wait) where you have to go to work and act as if nothing happened after you’ve done your IUI/IVF transfer and just WAIT. You’re waiting to see if the procedure was successful and whether your body is doing THE THING properly.
This intensely emotionally charged 2 week period of time is filled with ALL of the highs AND the lows all at the same time, with a mix of anticipation and fear along with it. Plus there’s all the times that your brain tries to reason and prepare your heart for disappointment battling it out with your heart envisioning success and what your future would look like.
The Pregnancy, Birth & Post-Partum
You would think that getting that BFP (= big fat positive) would mean that ALL of the months/years of stress would go away.
Nope! Not at all.
Instead, every day, you’re dreading that WHAT IFs …. what if you start spotting? Do those mild cramps mean a miscarriage is coming? Will I make it to my 2nd trimester? What’s the ultrasound going to tell me? Is the baby growing at a good rate? Am I gaining too much weight? Am I gaining too little weight? Should I do the genetic testing?
Once you make it to your second trimester, and then your third trimester, you start to stress about all of the things that could go wrong during your labour.
Once the baby is here, there’s all the stress and worries of breastfeeding/formula feeding, SIDS, family dynamics, post-partum anxiety/depression, etc etc etc.
I’ve always warned my fertility patients that unfortunately, getting that much awaited positive pregnancy test doesn’t mean that the worry and stress are over. Instead, it just opens up another door to a whole new bucket of them. And I always lament that fertility struggles have ROBBED US of our ability to naively be happy and excitedly celebrate our pregnancies and post-partum times.
The Life After
And when all of the craziness of having an infant fades and you’re now sitting with your toddler, you may decide to start the whole process over again.
On the flip side, you may not be able to have another baby, and that opens up a whole new can of worms when it comes to disappointment, guilt, grief, anger and regrets. Or you may decide that you can’t go through it again, which again is a whole other matter on its own.
There’s also the ramifications of what this journey does to your relationships with your partner, your family and your friends. What it does to your self-worth, your body and your finances.
No matter what, at the end of your journey, there’s a very long and slow process of grief and trauma that you have to work through for many months/years to come.
And it just isn’t fair because life isn’t fair.
You Are NOT Alone
You may feel incredibly lonely right now — like you’re the only one going through your fertility journey with these feelings and emotions.
But please know that you aren’t. Not at all.
Infertility affects 1 in 6 Canadians.
This is is a club that I don’t want anyone to join, but it’s also a club where all of its members know exactly what you’re going through. You can lean on us.
Reach out if you think I can help you.
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